Friday, October 29, 2010

Parrot Tulips

It is hard to imagine that anyone could pick just one particular type of tulip to love and adore. All tulips have a sleek regal beauty that not even the prickly thorny rose can acquire. But if I were hard pressed to pick a favorite tulip, I would have to say the Parrot Tulip wins my heart hands down. The variety is named after the frilly wing-like petals that adorn the flower. Choosing from a variety of colors, the pink and green parrot tulip stands supreme in my book.

These are the tulips displayed in 17th century Northern Renaissance vanity paintings; large floral arrangements dripping with luscious exotic flowers, dripping wet with dew. You almost get the sense that you could pluck one out of the frame to wipe away the water drops. In the early 1600's there was a "tulip mania". People were wild about the elegant flower in Europe. They were so obsessed with the beauty and value of this bulb that it was traded as a commodity.

Tulip bulbs were originally from the area of Kazakhstan in Asia. They grew wild in the fields. At that time, the bulbs were eaten (although, I would NOT recommend it now). It was an ambassador of Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire who brought the tulips to Holland. From there the Dutch cultivated the vast array of varieties we enjoy today. Although the Parrot Tulip seems like it would be expensive to buy, there are many catalogs and nurseries who stock them for a decent price in the Fall.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pretty Pansies

In an earlier blog post, I had stated that the geranium was my favorite flowering plant. Although that is true, I must say I have a particular fondness for the pansy. The pansy is a remarkable flower. It is part of the viola species. "Johnny Jump Ups" are the most common viola. Their flower is small and slender displaying two lavender petals on the top and three yellow petals blushed with purple on the bottom. People call them Johnny Jump Ups because if not contained they pop up everywhere, and can be a beautiful nuisance to some gardeners. I, myself, always welcomed their little faces.

The larger pansy was cultivated from the small viola species. The colors and faces range from deep blackish purples to bright orange. As a matter a fact, those are the pansies that I would plant for Halloween! The variety of flower can be big or medium, fluffy and frilly, or just plain and simple. I love the pansy because it really reminds me of a face. Perhaps it is a fond memory of the Disney cartoon, "Alice In Wonderland", where the flowers sing to Alice. Silly movie, who ever heard of a talking flower? Outrageous! Although, I did find myself talking to my pansies' little faces.

The most remarkable feature of a pansy, is that while they look delicate they are hardy. In snowy areas you are suppose to plant pansies in the chilly Fall. They don't mind being crushed under the mountains of snow during the Winter. When the snow melts, the pansy is the first flower to be seen. Even before the crocus, which appears in early February, the pansy lifts its head high. So, now is the time my fellow gardeners to peruse your local nursery and pick the pansy variety that you would like to greet you every day.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Desert Skies

As the sun set today in the desert sky there was a hint of rain in the fresh air. The clouds were hues of pink and orange. The dusty wet smell reminded me of the home where I grew up in Arizona. When I was a girl we lived in Scottsdale, Arizona; then a rural town full of corn fields and turkey farms. Now it is a booming sophisticated city with acres of golf courses and mileage of designer shops.

My father would take me out to the edge of the city to see the sun set behind the thorny and soft Sonoran Desert. Some may think it an irony that I associate a desert to being soft. The Sonoran Desert, however, is lush with vegetation. Nowhere else in the world can you find the beautiful saguaro cactus. The area is also rich with other wonderful plants like the prickly pear cactus, agave plant, and the willowy mesquite trees. All these varieties of vegetation produce wonderful fruits, juices, & beans. The indigenous people to the area used these plants for their survival.

Now I live in the Mohave Desert. It reminds me more of the moon with it's grey stark landscape. No matter how hard the developers try, there is always the rock hard moonscape to deal with. I must admit also, that I am not as familiar with the plants of the Mohave. I do know, however, what I like, and the one saving grace of the Mohave Desert in my opinion is the Joshua Tree. I had never heard of one until the band, U2 came out with an album, "Joshua Tree". Now I look forward to driving through them on my way to California. There is an entire forest that is an environmental landmark.

So, no matter if it is Sonoran or Mohave, I will always love the sunsets of the desert. I guess I am a "desert rat" at heart!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Hot Chocolate Time

One of my very favorite comfort foods is hot chocolate. The smell of rich chocolate filling the air brings back childhood memories of waking up in the early winter mornings and getting ready for school. I never thought of it then, but I realize now as an adult that my mother's routine hot chocolate with toast was far from the ordinary American breakfast.

I imagine that it became a family ritual when we lived in Holland and visited many of the neighboring countries. Perhaps it was because my parents did not drink coffee and this was their little a.m. vice. It was, nevertheless the replacement for the sugary cereals, pancakes or eggs that everyone else was eating.

My mother's recipe was simple and never measured. It was one of the first things that I learned how to make myself. It was always a blop of cocoa powder, a spoon of white sugar and whole milk poured ever so slowly while mixing it all into a thick syrup. Placing the syrup in the cocoa cups, my mother would pour the hot milk into each cup. Heavily buttered toast was served on the side where with we dunked into the steaming mixture.

Last year a friend sent me her Christmas Hot Chocolate recipe. It is not as simple as my mother's, but it makes large quantities of the delectable liquid treat.

Christmas Hot Chocolate

3 quarts boiling water
1 can (about 16 oz. serving size) Belgian Cocoa Mix
2 cans milk (I use one can sweetened condensed & one evaporated)
1 large Valrhona Chocolate Bar (grated).

Boil Water in a large stock pot
Heat milk in saucepan on stove (you can heat the two cans together)
Add cocoa mix to boiling water and still until there are no lumps
Add heated milks & grated chocolate bar to water & stir.

Serve it in a warm crock pot all day long for a special Christmas treat.